January 17, 2014 at 7:00 am

Allen Trieu

Spartans zero in on tough Florida safety T.J. Harrell

T.J. Harrell is being recruited as a safety by Michigan State, but he also plays tailback for Tampa Catholic. (Photo courtesy of Chad Simmons / Scout.com)

With just a few more weeks until the Feb. 5 National Signing Day, Michigan State has a handful of remaining targets, a couple of which hail from Florida, a state the Spartans have raided for late commitments in the past. In 2011, Juwan Caesar was a January commit and last year Noah Jones and Justin Williams were two of the final three commitments in the class.

Now the Spartans are hoping Tampa Catholic safety T.J. Harrell will fall into that line. He took an official visit to East Lansing in November and saw one of the team’s best performances, a 29-6 victory over rival Michigan.

“I wasn’t surprised at all (by the game),” he told Scout.com’s Dave Berk. “I got there and listened to the coaches talk with them before the game. All I can say is the defense topped it off and go the tempo hot and then the offense got the ball moving. I can absolutely see myself in that defense.”

Harrell is being recruited as a safety by the Spartans, but was also a productive high school tailback, and Scout.com Southeastern analyst Jamie Newberg believes he could grow into another position as well.

“If he plays defense it's likely as a strong safety,” Newberg says. “Defensively, he's a physical tackler who's at his best at or near the line of scrimmage. He could also develop into a linebacker.”

Newberg lists his top attributes as instincts, toughness and tackling ability -- three assets that he would share with much of the Spartan defense. Harrell has an official visit set with Louisville this weekend though, and Florida State, Kentucky and others are still in consideration. That said, the smart money may be on the Green and White.

“They have always been one of his top teams,” Berk says. “They were one of his top schools going all the way back to May. Jeremy Ware is his cousin and kept MSU on his mind and he really likes the coaching staff. We may not know until National Signing Day, but I would feel very confident if I were a Spartan fan.”

Narduzzi makes the rounds

Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi made the rounds through the state of Michigan on Thursday, the first day of the evaluation period. One of the first stops was Southfield High, home of Malik McDowell, one of the top remaining uncommitted prospects on the Spartan board.

He also checked in with several juniors with offers -- running back Mike Weber and defensive end Josh Alabi of Cass Tech, Detroit King linebacker Tyriq Thompson, and Oak Park’s speedy running back John Kelly. Narduzzi also made it to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, home of 2014 commit Jalen Watts-Jackson, 2015 commit Tyson Smith, and an intriguing class of 2016 prospect, running back-linebacker Daelin Hayes.

Spartans offer Georgia junior

According to Scout.com’s Chad Simmons, Michigan State has offered Tucker (Ga.) class of 2015 defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter (6-4, 271), who already has an impressive offer list that includes Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ole Miss and North Carolina. The Spartans’ offer is his first from the Big Ten. Simmons says Ledbetter plans to further research the Spartans in the near future.

More information

T.J. Harrell profile

Jonathan Ledbetter profile

Malik McDowell profile

Allen Trieu began covering the state of Michigan for Scout.com in 2005 and began managing the entire Midwest in 2009. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan State recruiting column appears every Friday at detroitnews.com. For more on MSU recruiting, visit michiganstate.scout.com.